WASHINGTON (CNN) – Mitt Romney may not officially be running for any office right now, but the former Massachusetts governor returned to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday and sounded an awful lot like the presidential candidate who ended his campaign here last February.
Romney delivered a speech that resembled, in both style and substance, his campaign stump speech of 2007 and early 2008, detailing his opposition to liberal judges, jihadists and higher taxes.
And in criticizing President Obama and House Democrats on a number of issues, Romney - often interrupted by standing ovations - made clear that he intends to remain a player in Republican politics as he eyes a potential presidential bid in 2012.
He opened his speech with a cheeky nod to one potential rival who didn't make the trip to the annual gathering of conservative activists - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"There's a rumor that she has been offered an 11 million dollar book contract," Romney said. "My publisher has been talking to me about an 11 millon dollar deal as well. I'm just not sure I can come up with that kind of money."
Though Romney said he would support President Obama when the two men agreed on an issue, he disparaged as "awfully vague" some of the plans the president outlined in his address to the nation this week and in his new budget, and said that proposals for universal healthcare and universal pre-school would lead to "universal government."
"I'm afraid I know where the liberal Democrats want to take us," Romney said. "And as they try to pull us in the direction of government-dominated Europe, we're going to have to fight as never before to make sure that America stays America."
Romney also targeted Attorney General Eric Holder for his recent remarks that America is "a nation of cowards" when it comes to discussing race.
"To those who question the character of our country, including the new attorney general, let us remind them that America has never been, is not now, and will never be a nation of cowards," he said, prompting a roar from the crowd and chants of "USA!"
He broke with other Republicans at the conference, including Mike Huckabee, who blasted the federal bailout of the financial industry as something akin to socialism. Romney argued that the legislation was necessary to infuse the market with currency in order to "prevent a cascade of bank collapses." But the Detroit native admonished the Bush administration for using federal funds to bail out domestic automakers.
Romney won back-to-back victories in the CPAC Straw Poll in 2007 and 2008, wins that helped him shore up support among the party's base as he campaigned for president. He is on the ballot once again this year, with the results due Saturday afternoon.